Businesses told to remain alert as lockdown easing heightens terror risk

The UK’s top counter-terrorism police officer has urged employees and the public to take an online awareness course amid fears that a rise in the country’s terrorism threat is imminent.

In the second part of his interview with Emerging Risks, the UK’s senior national coordinator for Protect and Prepare, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, warned that management and staff had to be aware of the threat and what they needed to do to thwart the aspirations of terrorists.

“We want everyone to feel that they have a role to play in national security and making the UK a hostile place for terrorists to operate,” he said. “Our range of ACT products can help you make quick, cost effective improvements to your security plans and help you protect both your business, your staff and your customers.

“It is yet another example of how collaboration and integration between police and the private sector can enhance national security and how we can collectively work together to make all our communities safer.”

DAC Twist added: “The threat to the UK from terrorism remains at SUBSTANTIAL, meaning an attack is likely, and as public places such as non-essential shops, hospitality and sports events begin to open up, the security experts at Counter Terrorism Policing are encouraging the public and businesses to help the police tackle terrorism and save lives by remaining vigilant and reporting suspicious behaviour.”

He warned that while the terrorist threat had been suppressed by lockdown so had the amount if intelligence provided by the public, which remains a key weapon in the fight against terrorism.

“Of course, many members of the public directly assist our CT investigations by providing information via the Anti-terrorist hotline (ATH) and online reporting tool on gov.uk/ACT, and nearly a fifth of all reports into those channels from the public is useful intelligence which is used across the 800 or so live investigations that CTP are running at any given time,” he explained. “However, much like the drop in Prevent referrals we saw during the start of the lockdown in March last year, we also saw a significant drop in the number of tip-offs from the public received by the ATH and the online reporting tool during the course of the pandemic.

“To quantify that, in the financial year 2019/20 there were a total of 12,567 reports from the public into the ATH, either by phone or online. That dropped by 23% to 9642 in 2020/21.”

DAC Twist said the drop was most likely a result of the pandemic, which understandably meant that the public’s attention was focused on public health threats and not those from terrorism.

“Despite this, it is heartening that nearly 10,000 people still contacted CTP with information, with nearly a fifth of that being turned into intelligence which helped our teams of investigators,” he added.  “What we need from the public now, as we ease out of lockdown and start to see the return of busy towns and cities, and the crowded places which have traditionally been a target for terrorists, is for them to be aware and vigilant against not just Covid-19, but terrorism too.”

“That’s important because the information that the public provides prevents attacks and saves lives,” DAC Twist continued. “The cooperation between public and police is a powerful defence.

“Consequently, in recent years, attacks have been prevented and lives have been saved. My main message is that any piece of information could be important, it is better to be safe and report. You know your local community; you are best placed to spot when something doesn’t seem right. Trust your instincts and act by reporting it.”

He added that If staff or management were not sure, but thought something didn’t feel right, the police have highly trained staff who have the knowledge to assess information and make the right decisions. “This is what we are here for, it isn’t wasting our time”.

He urged employers and employees to complete the official ACT Awareness e-learning course. The free 45 minutes course provides the latest advice from CT experts, informing how to react in the unlikely event of a terror attack and how to spot and report suspicious activity and behaviour.

“This training could save your life, or the lives of others,” he said. “I also have a request for businesses and business owners, too. As many bars, restaurants and other businesses prepare to open new outdoor spaces to meet Covid safety regulations, we want business owners to ensure these new areas have been properly risk assessed – helping to protect their customers not just against Covid, but terrorism too.”

He said businesses had been asked to do three things in order to play “their vital part in our collective security effort”.

“Arrange for your staff to take our Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) Awareness online course. Review the police’s sector-specific crowded places advice documents, and make sure that a risk assessment is carried out on existing sites and any new areas such as outdoor spaces opened to meet Covid safety rules.

“Download the ACT app to your phone to be sure of having the latest official information and updates from Counter Terrorism Policing in your pocket 24/7 and encourage your staff to do the same.”

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DAC Twist added: “The threat to the UK from terrorism remains at SUBSTANTIAL, meaning an attack is likely, and as public places such as non-essential shops, hospitality and sports events begin to open up, the security experts at Counter Terrorism Policing are encouraging the public and businesses to help the police tackle terrorism and save lives by remaining vigilant and reporting suspicious behaviour.”

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